Calls for local governments to address street homelessness have grown increasingly louder across the country. Those demands sound very different depending on who they come from, and are often at odds. But something different is happening in Philadelphia — and has been for some time.

Shared Public Spaces brings unlikely partners together to work on proactive and compassionate approaches to chronic street homelessness in Philly. Established in 2016 by executive order, Shared Public Spaces is a public-private workgroup comprised of leaders from business, hospitality, and civic communities. Together, they partner with City leaders, advocates, and homeless services providers to strategize. The collective goal is to ensure that all Philadelphians can enjoy public spaces safely, comfortably, with dignity and respect.

Shared Public Spaces recently established an action team focused on information, education, and networking to expand the community of people dedicated to solving homelessness. It is made up of homeless service providers, advocates, and people with lived experience of homelessness. The action team works with hospitality industry leaders, retail business, and residential real estate groups to lift up solutions, offering opportunities to learn, network and volunteer. Their shared mission is to make homelessness rare, brief, and nonrecurring in Philly.

Building on success

The action team is building on the six-year long experience of Shared Public Spaces, and on measured success:

Homelessness overall in Philadelphia declined by 22% in the last five years. The unsheltered population went down by 12% and family homelessness dropped by 42%, according to the City’s recent annual Point-In-Time Counts.

In addition to Broad Street Ministry, which was established in 2005, there are now three new daytime drop-in centers for people experiencing homelessness in Philadelphia.

There are nineteen homeless outreach teams in the City. Notably, Center City District, together with Project HOME, established the Ambassadors of Hope. Through this initiative, over 500 unsheltered people accepted help and were transported to service or treatment providers geared toward their individual needs, shelter or housing.

The regional public transportation network SEPTA established co-responder teams as part of its SCOPE program. SCOPE stands for Safety, Cleaning, Ownership, Partnership and Engagement, and is a systemwide, coordinated effort to connect vulnerable individuals with social services while providing a safe, clean transit system for riders and employees.

All aboard

Some of Philadelphia’s highest profile businesses, including the Pennsylvania Convention Center Authority, PREIT, and Wawa came together to establish PHLCares, a business-led initiative investing in solutions to homelessness. The fund made $500,000 in grants to four high-impact nonprofits in 2022: Bethesda Project, SELF Inc., Housing Smart (operated by Resources for Human Development), and Pathways to Housing PA.

Shared Public Spaces has fostered an impressive list of solutions-focused projects since 2016, but its journey is not over. As 2023 kicks off it is looking to widen its partnerships. On February 8 the group is hosting an “open house,” at Broad Street Ministry. The event is an opportunity for businesses, nonprofits, and others to find out how they can be part of the solution to homelessness. They can get information on homeless outreach, network with results-driven community members, and discuss ways to take action, together.

For more information, and to join the Shared Public Spaces action team, contact